The racing of our minds coupled with our intrusive thoughts are always moving at warp speeds with surprising levels of detail. A stolen glance can leave you pondering words unsaid for the remainder of a day. An unfolding scene taken in passing at 35 mph leaves you playing out hypothetical conclusions for the next twenty-three miles. What do you get when you combine this naturally occurring phenomenon of internal banter with detailed and relative prose? You get, “Going”, a short story by Shelly Wotowiec.
Now back to your regularly scheduled internal dialogue…..
At the red light I glance over at the bus stop to my right. I see a white woman wrapped up in a parka, smoking a cigarette sitting next to a black man with uneven facial hair. The woman is beautiful, her hair curled and her nails flawlessly painted. The man looks as though he doesn’t fit inside the glass. He sits with his legs crossed awkwardly and his head against the back window.
The two are on opposite ends of the bench and I feel bad for the man. I don’t think it is because he is black and she is white, but to be completely honest I can’t be sure. He looks at the street with a blank stare while the woman sits laughing into her cell phone. He turns his head as she blows cigarette smoke into the uninviting morning air. In my world, these two would talk to one another. The woman would get off her cell phone and talk to the man sitting uncomfortably next to her. She’d realize he felt forced to share her space in the bus stop and she would apologize for being so rude. They would shake hands and talk about the weather.
“Nice day, don’t you think?” She’d smile, showing off her pearly whites.
“Actually, I think it is a bit chilly.” He’d say as he pulled his scarf a little bit tighter around his neck.
“But what is a nice day?” She’d say all philosophically. “A day is a day and nice is what we make it.”
“Yeah, sure.” He’d respond with a laugh.
The weather, though, would only be to start. Once all the everyday small talk was out of the way, they would have gotten more personal. They might have talked about love lives, children, childhood crushes, politics (gag), and crazy family members.
“I’ve got a lot on my plate, you know?” She says as she takes a puff of her cigarette and inhales deeply. This reminds him of an old movie he saw when he was a kid, sitting on a torn up couch with his grandfather. The woman in the movie did the same smoke inhale expression and the room had the same feel when she talked about her husband’s affair and her dog’s cancer.
“Tell me about it.” He says in response, hoping she didn’t realize he was writing her off as just another movie character.
“I mean, we haven’t been happy for a long time.” She exhales the smoke once again into the air. “I get that we haven’t been happy.”
He waits a few seconds, wondering whether she expects him to say something comforting or to simply sit and listen.
“I would have never cheated on him, you know?” She puts her cigarette out on the bottom of her shoe and pulls a new one of the pack in her purse. “I have more respect for him than that.”
“He doesn’t respect you.” He says involuntarily, and instantly regrets it.
“Yeah, no shit.” She responds. “I haven’t told him I know yet.”
“How did you find out?”
“Her scent is all over them.”
“He has had her at your house?”
“Yes. In my bed.”
“And you haven’t called him out on it?”
“Well, I’m deciding the best plan of action.” She exhales once again, polluting the air.
“You should really quit that shit.” He says louder than he intends.
“Tell me about it.” She examines the cigarette butt lined in red lipstick between her fingers.
“So what are you going to do?” He asks more calmly.
“I think I’m going to leave.”
“Where will you go?”
“I don’t know yet, I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Well why don’t you just talk to him? Maybe you can work something out.” He tries to reason.
“Work what out? I hate the fucker.”
“Then why are you married to him?”
“Because he knocked me up when I was seventeen.”
“So you have a child together?”
“No, she was born dead.”
“So why’d you stay with him?”
“Because we were already married.”
“How long have you been together?”
The bus pulls up, flashes its lights, and opens its door.
“You getting in?”
“I don’t think so.” She responds, lighting another cigarette.
“Me neither.” He smiles and waves the bus on.
The bus driver looks annoyed and doesn’t return his smile.
“So where were you going this morning?” He asks her, growing more and more interested in this strange woman.
“I was going to get a hotel room and hide out for a few days.”
“Do you work?”
“No. I come from family money.”
“Must be nice.”
“Where were you going this morning?”
“To the unemployment office.”
“So you don’t work either.”
“No, I was laid off.”
“What’s your story?”
“I’ve been working in the steel mill since I was eighteen.”
“That’s hard labor.”
“And you got laid off?”
“Yeah, after twenty-five years.”
She looks down at her hands and sees she has forgotten about the cigarette burning between her fingers. She lets the ash fall onto the pavement.
“So what are you going to do?” He looks over.
“I don’t know.” She closes her eyes and places her head against the glass. “Am I your type?”
“I haven’t really thought about it.”
“What if we were to run off together?”
“Run off together?”
“Yeah. What if we ran off together?”
“Where would we go?”
“I don’t like the ocean. Water scares the shit out of me.”
“Okay, so no ocean.”
A car horn blares behind me.
“Move your ass!” A man screams from the blue Chevy in my rearview mirror.
I give him an apologetic wave and make my right turn onto Warren Street, leaving the man and woman in their separate corners.
Shelly Wotowiec | Lakewood, OH | Age 26
For centuries, philosophers, scientists, and noblemen have long debated as to which is more beautiful: Ms. Wotowiec's words or Ms. Wotowiec herself.